BACH Preludes & Fugues – Barbara Harbach, pipe organ – MSR Classics

by | Jul 15, 2016 | Classical CD Reviews

Harbach’s Bach breathes the breath of openness and refined imagery.

BACH: Prelude and St. Anne Fugue in E-flat major, BWV 552; Toccata and Fugue in F major, BWV 540; An Wasserflussen Babylon, BWV 653; Prelude and Fugue in C minor, BWV 546; Choral Prelude: O Mensch Bewein Dein Sunde Gross, BWV 622; Fantasy and Fugue in G minor, BWV 542; Prelude and Fugue in E minor, BWV 548 “Wedge” – Barbara Harbach, organ – MSR Classics MS 1444, 74:40 [Distr. by Albany] ****:

The Fisk organ of the Downtown Presbyterian Church in Rochester NY, and the Schlicker organ of the First Evangelical Lutheran Church of Lyons NY are the settings for this third Bach disc of Barbara Harbach for MSR Classics. Harbach is quite the wunderkind; Curators’ Professor of Music at the University of Missouri St. Louis, she is a prolific performer, researcher, composer, educator, and historical music specialist. I get tired just looking at all of her accomplishments, and maybe this is why I find her Bach so relaxed, genial, and devotional. If that sounds like code for “boring” to you, the truth is anything but. In fact, after all the Bach organ recordings that seem to have been as stretched, twisted, and pulled apart as Bach’s music in general, I find the more meditative aspects of even his more vigorous pieces, like the Toccata and Fugue in F major, taken with a wonderful lilting feel, to be preferable to the enervated and pumped-up recordings that so often appear these days. Harbach in fact reminds me of one of my favorites, E Power Biggs, a man much maligned in his days as being too middle of the road, but who in fact had a unique and formidably powerful vision of Bach’s music and how it was performed. Harbach seems to share this spirit.

The sound, as on so many MSR recordings, is warm and vibrant, analog-like, not always the most spacious but equally rich in tonal luster and true to the instrument. An easy recommendation.

—Steven Ritter

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